Discounts on healthy food lead to increase in consumption – study

Science and Health

Every time that Israel faces a serious budget deficit, Finance Ministry economists try to charge value-added tax on fruits and vegetables, whose purchasers are exempt from paying VAT on these nutritious foods. As the deficit is due to be huge because of the Gaza war and its implications, it will probably try again. 

The ministry disregards the fact that dietary food intake has a major influence on health indicators, including body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, serum cholesterol, and glucose. When these factors rise, they inevitably lead to chronic diseases in the population that are very expensive to treat. 

Just 12% of US adults eat enough fruit, 10% enough vegetables 

Previous research has shown that decisions to purchase specific food items are primarily based on taste and cost. In the US, only 12% of adults meet the recommended fruit intake, and 10% meet recommendations for the consumption of vegetables.

Since the affordability of food items is a limiting factor for meeting fruit and vegetable intake guidelines, researchers suggest that more affordable, low-energy-dense foods like fruits and vegetables that are relatively more expensive than less healthful junk foods could induce consumers to eat more fresh produce.

Healthful vegetables (credit: Mount Sinai Health System)

 A team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan conducted a randomized, controlled trial of primary household shoppers from several New York City supermarkets to observe the effects of a multi-level randomized discount (30%, 15%, and no discount) for fruits, vegetables and non-caloric beverages on changes in dietary intake.

The trial included an eight-week baseline, a 32-week intervention, and a 16-week follow-up. Twenty-four-hour recollections of each participant’s diet were conducted during the baseline period and before the intervention midpoint. In-person testing including of body weight, percentage of body fat, blood pressure, fasting serum glucose, hemoglobin A1C, and serum blood lipids were analyzed at different times. 

The study results, just published in PLOS One under the title “Impact of a randomized controlled trial of discounts on fruits, vegetables, and noncaloric beverages in NYC supermarkets on food intake and health risk factors,” showed that the 30% discount led to significantly increased consumption of both vegetables and non-sugary soda.


The 15% discount group showed a non-significant increase in consumption of non-sugary soda but no change for vegetables. Thus, a discount of 15% may not be adequate to influence vegetable intake. Fruit intake, on the other hand, showed no effect from the discounts during the initial study period up to the midpoint.

“Our findings that significant discounts on health foods can lead to an increase in consumption of these foods offer a suggestion for public health officials and policymakers to consider increasing access to nutritious foods and beverages,” said the study’s senior author, psychiatrist Alan Geliebter at Mount Sinai and an expert in obesity, food intake, and eating disorders.

“The results highlight a potential avenue for promoting more-healthful dietary intake behaviors, and we hope this information will be used by policymakers to consider subsidizing fruits and vegetables.”